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Why NATO Isn’t Going to Fight in Syria

Mideast Syria

My latest for The National Interest, “NATO’s Not Attacking,” has posted.

NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated Friday that the Alliance will not intervene militarily in Syria. While he repeatedly made the same assurances regarding Libya before NATO’s ultimate action, there’s good reason to believe him this time.

[...]

[W]ith the possible exception of Turkey, no major NATO ally has a national interest in taking on this fight. The near-universal Western view at the outset of the conflict, of a popular uprising of freedom fighters ushering in an Arab Spring, has given way to a much gloomier and pessimistic outlook.

[...]

Given the lack of viable military options or any political will to carry them out, both the Obama administration and NATO naturally insist on a “diplomatic solution.” Alas, not only is it far from clear what that would look like, but the Obama administration’s impetuousness at the outset of the crisis complicates it. Hill correctly notes that Obama made a critical error in August 2011 when he declared that Assad must go because, “By repudiating Mr. Assad without any nuance, the administration complicated its ability to negotiate with minority Kurds, Christians, and Druze, who are suspicious of Mr. Assad but even more fearful about the uncertainty that would accompany a takeover by Sunni-led rebels.”

 

I’m reflexively anti-interventionist in cases where only humanitarian interests are at stake. The sheer scale of the death toll in Syria–over 80,000 and climbing fast–would likely to cause me to make an exception here if we could achieve even Libya-level good at Libya-level prices. But, as my colleague Harlan Ullman warns, this is a case where “every option is bad. Some are worse.”  How bad?

We would appear to be left with the dilemma that the American public seems to have unconsciously accepted in the aforementioned poll: diplomacy is unlikely to work and the costs of military intervention—which itself is unlikely to achieve our objectives—is simply too high. Which means facing up to the “unpleasant truth” that Edward Luttwak infamously pointed to in 1999: “although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace.”

Ullman shares the unhappy thought that, “A British member of Parliament who knows the region well says that if Assad defeats the opposition, at least 100,000 people will perish. And if Assad goes, that number could double or triple in the ensuing bloodbath.” But, as we’ve seen recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to a thankfully lesser extent in Libya, Western military intervention doesn’t preclude massive slaughter in ensuing sectarian violence.

There’s a reverse Pottery Barn Rule in effect here: If we didn’t break it, we don’t own it.

That bad.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Well, for one thing there aren’t boatloads of Syrians making their way in leaky craft to Italy, as was the case in Libya.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Libya was easier in every respect. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the perfect environment for a demonstration of NATO air superiority, Libya was that 1: few cities, lots of wide open desert. F-16s and convoys of vehicles traveling long desert roads go perfectly together.

    Syria isn’t just physically more challenging (a 6 or 7) it’s got everything a smart foreign government should want to avoid: civil war, volatile neighborhood, a distinct lack of clear good guys, a surplus of bad guys, and all of it wrapped up in a religious conflict that is in its 14th millennium now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  3. stonetools says:

    I like the perception of another writer in The Atlantic Council:

    Yet this problem from hell is, in fact, unavoidable. Those who would counsel President Barack Obama to keep Syria at arm’s length—to stick with programs of humanitarian and nonlethal assistance—should also explain how this approach will help our allies and friends bordering Syria avoid the consequences of Syria’s systematic destruction as a state and a society. If the situation prevailing now in Syria persists for another six, twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four months, will the concerns of Jordanians, Turks, Lebanese, Iraqis, and Israelis diminish? Will a family-based regime, enjoying the complete support of Iran and Hezbollah, and willing to kill, maim, stampede, imprison, and torture its fellow citizens by the millions to stay in business, do anything at all to mitigate the effects of its behavior on its neighbors? It certainly has not done so to date. Indeed, it has made it clear that if it goes down others go down with it. This problem is not avoidable. If the Assad regime is not a threat to the peace and security of the region, the phrase itself has no meaning.

    Bingo. I think that the non-interventionists are skating to where the puck is, not to where the puck is going to be. It’s obvious that there are no good options on the ground now. What we need to do is to cultivate good options for the future, not to accept the current situation as inevitable.That’s not as easy or straightforward as picking sides, but its a better option than waiting and hoping that things will get better. They most likely won’t. We should be thinking about things will look like in a year for Syria and her neighbors, not what things look like now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    and all of it wrapped up in a religious conflict that is in its 14th millennium now.

    This. And a thousand times this every time old Uncle Crazy McCain and Lindsey “Crackers” Graham try to get us involved in another middle east conflict.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. James Joyner says:

    @stonetools: Fred–who is far more expert on Syria than I am–and I disagree on what to do about it but I think his assessment of the facts is dead on. There are a lot of balls in the air on this one and, yes, there’s serious potential for regional spillover. But that still doesn’t mean there’s a hell of a lot we can do about it. All of the reasons we can’t fix the internal situation apply to fixing the potential spillover; they’re one and the same.

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  6. @Dave Schuler:

    Do you think the international calculus vis a vis Syria would change if the war starts spreading into Lebanon or having domestic political effects in Jordan?

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  7. Dave Schuler says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No. I’m not even sure the calculus would change if the war spread into NATO member Turkey. I think it would take pressure from NATO core countries. I would characterize the “NATO core” countries as US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    But that still doesn’t mean there’s a hell of a lot we can do about it. All of the reasons we can’t fix the internal situation apply to fixing the potential spillover; they’re one and the same.

    I think its obvious that sending in the 82nd Airborne tomorrow would be ineffective and wrong (Even John McCain would concede that). But that’s to state the obvious. We’re playing chess, not checkers. We need instead to make moves which will pay dividends not tomorrow, but down the road.
    OK, so there are no easy military options. That’s not all the USA can do. We can:

    1. Find, organize and arm moderates among the Syrian opposition. Generally we tell ourselves that we can’t do that, or there are no moderates out there. But a moderate government did emerge in Libya and in Tunisia and Mali. Its not an easy, foolproof option-but its possible. Let’s give it a try.
    2. Pressure Russia not to send more advanced missile systems to Syria. Warn China to stay out.
    3. See if we can foment opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon, so that Hezbollah withdraws from Syria.
    4. More humanitarian aid to Turkey and Jordan, so that they don’t implode.

    The idea should be to change the situation, so that in a year there are good options.The best strategy might be not an outright win, but getting Assad to the negotiating table. Right now, its looking like a total Assad victory in a year-an Assad victory that would leave in a place a regime that would be a satellite of Iran, armed with advanced Russian weaponry, and maybe Hezbollah in place ready to open a “second front” with Israel in the Golan Heights. How is that result in the US national interest?

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  9. stonetools says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Yet Turkey is a NATO ally, and none too stable at this time. Part of that instability has to do the the Syrian civil war.

    Most Turks also condemn Erdogan´s policies towards neighboring Syria. Turkey is currently the main supporter of terrorist groups that fight in Syria. These militants receive arms, money, logistic aid and permission to move across the Turkish territory and to cross the border to Syria from the Turkish authorities. Moreover, Turks oppose to the government´s alignment with the US. According to recent polls, only one-quarter of the Turkish population backs Erdogan’s policy of arming the groups fighting against the Syrian government.

    It is worth remembering that a fifth of Turks adhere to the Alevi sect, a branch of Islam. Erdogan´s emergence as the leader of militant groups in Syria have worried the Alevis, who have a long memory of persecution. Turkish Alevis sympathize with Assad because the Erdogan government appears to be determined to destroy his government. Erdogan’s support for the Syrian and foreign militants upsets Turkey´s Kurds too.

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  10. Woody says:

    Thing is, our motives aren’t seen as particularly trustworthy by a wide swath of Syrians, particularly after Iraq.

    This reminds me a little about the conundrum that President Obama faces in the U.S. Congress: if he supports any policy, it will immediately be opposed by dozens. If we supported “moderates” (and moderate now does not necessarily mean moderate later), this becomes a common cause among the myriad rebel groups (as well as the Assad government).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Matt Bernius says:

    @stonetools:
    Of those suggestions, only 4 seems workable.

    3 is really dangerous — both because of the general level of support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the fact that essentially it’s a plan that’s advocating stabilization through further destabilization. Beyond that, given the existing beliefs in the region that the US is out to get them, I have a hard time seeing how that would help our longer term efforts.

    But #1 is really, really foolish:

    1. Find, organize and arm moderates among the Syrian opposition. Generally we tell ourselves that we can’t do that, or there are no moderates out there. But a moderate government did emerge in Libya and in Tunisia and Mali. Its not an easy, foolproof option-but its possible. Let’s give it a try.

    This isn’t an issue of whether or not moderates exist in the opposition — clearly they do. But the fact, given the proven atrocities that are being committed by rebel forces (granted not at the same scale as those by the Government) there’s no way to prevent any military aide we give from being used to enact future war crimes. Once given, we don’t have control over who uses the bullets.

    I think we need to remember the lesson of Afghan/Russian war (the most recent one) and what our military aid helped create.

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  12. Sam Malone says:

    McCain wants to intervene in Syria…so it CANNOT be a good idea.
    Next issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. stonetools says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    there’s no way to prevent any military aid we give from being used to enact future war crimes.

    We condition aid based on the group’s promise not to commit atrocities. If the groups we arm commit persistent atrocities, then we withdraw aid. We should also understand in a war-especially a Middle East war-there are going to be atrocities, so our standard should not be Sir Galahad type conduct 100 per cent of the time. (When the US goes to war, we don’t comply with that standard of conduct either-see Sherman, William Tecumseh).

    I think we need to remember the lesson of Afghan/Russian war (the most recent one) and what our military aid helped create.

    The lesson of the Afghan /Russian war is not just to indiscriminately give arms to every anti-Russian group because DEFEAT COMMUNISM! Rather, we can and should be discriminating about who we give arms too.
    The lesson of Tunisia is we are front and center in supporting moderates, a moderate government can indeed take power (CAN, not MUST. Egypt is a counterexample).
    The lesson of Libya and Mali is that if we arm and support moderates, moderates can win out over extremists.

    Note that examples cited give the lie to the present defeatist CW on the site, which is that moderates will ALWAYS lose. Yes they will-if you don’t help and arm them.
    None of this will be easy, or result in certain victory (There are no layups in the Middle East). But doing nothing will likely result in worse outcomes. In the Middle East, things never get better by themselves-that’s practically a law of nature there.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    In the eighties we had a round of deficit panic, much like the current round. At the time I said we should have a Federal law requiring any politician who proposed balancing the budget with spending cuts to name line items and amounts. These days I think anyone who proposes US intervention because ‘we have to’ should be required to be specific about how. Even James’ friend Hof, linked to by @stonetools: , doesn’t get more concrete than:

    “I would imagine that [US] planning is likely complete for a range of options from ensuring that vetted rebel units get what they need in terms of arms, equipment, and training, to steps that would eliminate or seriously degrade the ability of the regime to pound populated areas with artillery, aircraft, and missiles.” And “…the United States should take steps to destroy or seriously degrade that capability” [of Syria to destabilize its neighbors].

    Agree or not, at least @stonetools: made an effort to identify a list of actionable options.

    And remember how we resolved the deficit crisis of the eighties. We didn’t, as Perot demanded, panic and take some omigod, nuclear option, slash the budget approach. We elected a Democrat and with a little tax increase here, a little spending cut there, and a little growth; one day we realized it wasn’t a problem anymore. Probably good advice both for our current deficit “crisis” and for dealing with Syria. A little aid to Jordan here, allowing a surrogate to slip in some guns there, maybe fund some strategic bribes over in the corner.

    And we need to figure out how to show the government and the people of Turkey that they aren’t second class members of NATO. Sorry, short on specifics of how to do that myself.

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  15. R.Dave says:

    diplomacy is unlikely to work and the costs of military intervention—which itself is unlikely to achieve our objectives—is simply too high.

    I think the bolded part depends very much on what those objectives are and what “military intervention” entails. It seems like most discussion is limited to objectives that are directly related to the Syrian situation itself (e.g., limiting civilian casualties, securing WMDs, preventing regional spillover, etc.), and given those objections, the range of available military options is limited to things like arming rebel factions, no-fly zones, ground troops, etc., all of which involve long-term commitments, high costs and deep involvement in a murky and volatile polity.

    However, if we consider broader objectives such as reducing the likelihood of other Syria-like events in the future by reinforcing the norm that governments in this day and age are not allowed to slaughter their people with impunity, then the range of available military options expands to include simply decapitating the Assad regime, which could be accomplished relatively quickly, at reasonable cost and with few boots on the ground (basically just SF spotters and the like). In other words, if the US rejected the Pottery Barn rule and signaled its willingness to target and destroy a regime’s leadership even when it’s not willing/able to assume responsibility for reforming and rebuilding the entire country, then perhaps other dictatorial regimes would realize they can’t rely on “better the devil we know” fears to shield them from reprisals and thus be more restrained in their own behavior going forward.

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  16. R.Dave says:

    @R.Dave: I should note that I’m not necessarily sold on this idea. It’s just something I’ve been considering for a while, and I haven’t seen it discussed much / at all, so I figured I’d throw it out there.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @R.Dave:

    reinforcing the norm that governments in this day and age are not allowed to slaughter their people with impunity

    This is a full-on civil war, not a one-sided affair.

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  18. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    1. Find, organize and arm moderates among the Syrian opposition. Generally we tell ourselves that we can’t do that, or there are no moderates out there. But a moderate government did emerge in Libya and in Tunisia and Mali. Its not an easy, foolproof option-but its possible. Let’s give it a try.

    The moderates are likely to be the least effective. Ruthlessness is the key to power, and the moderates will be the least ruthless. There are no controls that will keep arms from getting to the most ruthless.

    2. Pressure Russia not to send more advanced missile systems to Syria. Warn China to stay out.

    Russia is in till the end. Russia got burned in Libya, and it is not going to happen again. They have financial, military, and geopolitical interests in Syria (and Iran). To my knowledge, China does not have any direct interests, but the Chinese are not responsive to warnings, anyway.

    3. See if we can foment opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon, so that Hezbollah withdraws from Syria.

    Hezbollah military is as large or larger than the army, and Hezbollah runs a large portion of Lebanon. The opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon tends to end up in large bomb craters. Hezbollah being tied up in Syria is probably good for the opposition.

    4. More humanitarian aid to Turkey and Jordan, so that they don’t implode.

    This might help, but cracking skulls would work better.

    The fastest and simplest solution is for Assad to bring out his daddy’s playbook, but it will be bloody. The choice is to get the killing over quickly or slowly.

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  19. [...] Why NATO Isn’t Going to Fight in Syria (outsidethebeltway.com) [...]

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  20. stonetools says:

    And we need to figure out how to show the government and the people of Turkey that they aren’t second class members of NATO

    I have to admit I thought Shuler’s comment about “core NATO” troubling. He apparently saw NATO as being divided between ” core NATO” (rich, white Christian) and second class NATO, where the expendable, brown -skinned Muslims live. Threats to them don’t demand NATO action.

    @James Joyner:

    This is a full-on civil war, not a one-sided affair.

    What happened the last time a full-on civil war broke out in the neighborhood of NATO countries (admittedly core NATO countries?) In that war, as I recall, one side was being slaughtered too.And it was a murky situation involving multiple religious and ethnic groups and historic hatreds. Yet there was successful NATO intervention.
    I think the tendency to focus on the bad interventions in order to learn from them, to be humble, and to demand a high bar for intervention is all to the good. But to adopt a policy of NO intervention is stupid as cavalierly jumping in all over the place. The guiding principle should be SMART interventions, not NO interventions.

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  21. Andre Kenji says:

    @stonetools:

    We condition aid based on the group’s promise not to commit atrocities.

    It´s not so simple. The Syrian resistance groups sometimes remind the endless Judea liberation groups in “Monty Python´s Life of Brian”. There are several of these groups, and there is no coherent opposition.

    BBC´s Newsnight aired a good segment yesterday about that, but part of the problem comes from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans divided their society between Muslims, Christians and Jews(That paid higher taxes than Muslims) and then heretic sects of Muslims(Basically, everything that was not Sunni), that were banned and prosecuted. That´s one of the reasons why there are so many tribal violence in the former eyalets(provinces) of the Ottoman Empire. And provinces is a very generous term, because the Ottomans had relatively little control over these territories(Even if they violently suppressed rebellions).

    After World War II, the French tried to divide Syria(that was formed after a four or five provinces) between these factions, to have better control(The French fought that the Sunni majority was their enemy, and that´s why there is a minority government there).

    In fact, seeing a map of the political divisions of the Ottoman Empire and comparing than with today´s maps is pretty telling:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rakka_(Urfa)_Eyalet,_Ottoman_Empire_(1609)_Kopie.png

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  22. stonetools says:

    @TastyBits:

    The moderates are likely to be the least effective. Ruthlessness is the key to power, and the moderates will be the least ruthless. There are no controls that will keep arms from getting to the most ruthless.

    Yet moderate regimes emerged in Libya, Tunisia, and Mali-with Western support. Reality tells us that moderates don’t always lose-quite the contrary. It depends on the quality and level of Western support, as well as the quality of the moderate leadership.

    Hezbollah military is as large or larger than the army, and Hezbollah runs a large portion of Lebanon. The opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon tends to end up in large bomb craters. Hezbollah being tied up in Syria is probably good for the opposition.

    Just means Hezbollah is a tough nut to crack. They’ve got lots of enemies in Lebanon-Christian, Sunni, Druze- and of course the Israelis. They’re not invincible.

    The fastest and simplest solution is for Assad to bring out his daddy’s playbook, but it will be bloody. The choice is to get the killing over quickly or slowly.

    Assad has already killed more than his father. I don’t think he lacks in ruthlessness. The opposition has resisted longer and harder than many expected. There’s no doubt it’s a death struggle.

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  23. TastyBits says:

    @R.Dave:

    In Libya, the UK and France were worried about the oil field infrastructure being destroyed. Libya was about oil, and therefore, 2,000 potential civilian causalities were unacceptable. Syria has nothing the Europeans want, and therefore, 80,000+ civilian casualties is acceptable.

    Libya seemed easy because the Russians did not intervene. They had financial interests in Libya, but those went into the grave with Gaddafi, and they were shutout of any contracts by the Europeans. When the party started in Syria, they were not going to make the same mistake. Also, I would expect that Putin will get payback in the future. He is not known for “playing well with others.”

    WW1 was “the war to end all wars”, and the fall of communism ushered in “the end of history”. After each mass slaughter, the cries of “never again” are once again proclaimed. Countries act in their self-interest. Syria, Darfur, Rwanda, etc. have nothing of value, and nobody is going to do anything about civilians being slaughtered.

    People who live under a brutal regime do not long for freedom. They long to live under a less brutal regime. The solution to Syria was a less brutal leader. Allowing Russia to replace Assad would have solved the problem. This is the most likely outcome, but a lot more people are going to be slaughtered.

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  24. Andre Kenji says:

    @stonetools:

    Assad has already killed more than his father. I don’t think he lacks in ruthlessness. The opposition has resisted longer and harder than many expected. There’s no doubt it’s a death struggle.

    The problem is not only Assad. Assad simply inherited the military and state structure that his father built. He has to prove that he is tough to the generals, advisers and party structure that came with his father.

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  25. Andre Kenji says:

    @TastyBits:

    In Libya, the UK and France were worried about the oil field infrastructure being destroyed. Libya was about oil,

    Not only oil, but natural gas. The reason that Europeans do not dare to face Putin(Even after the Russians basically stole a whole capital management company from a British national) is precisely because Gazprom can shut the supply of energy for Europe.

    Sarkozy had even promised a Nuclear Reactor to Kadaffy after the whole Bulgarian Nurse fiasco in exchange for contracts for natural gas.

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  26. stonetools says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    It´s not so simple. The Syrian resistance groups sometimes remind the endless Judea liberation groups in “Monty Python´s Life of Brian”. There are several of these groups, and there is no coherent opposition.

    Pro tip. If it was simple, it wouldn’t be the Middle East. Also too, most revolutions are messy-including, BTW, the American Revolution, which wasn’t the simple struggle for liberty that’s portrayed on TV.
    The exact same statements were made about the Libyan revolt. There too, it was a mix of moderates and Islamists. We helped the moderates and they prevailed. The lesson: moderates aren’t going to flourish by themselves. They’re going to need help- the kind of military help that the Islamists are already getting from the Gulf states, which is why the Islamists now dominate.

    BBC´s Newsnight aired a good segment yesterday about that, but part of the problem comes from the Ottoman Empire.

    One of the biggest mistakes the Allies did after WW1 was to break up the Ottoman Empire, IMO. The British and French didn’t know what the eff they were getting into, and made people all kinds of promises they couldn’t keep-all in the service of imperial greed and frankly, racism. Recommend this book:


    A Peace to End All Peace
    .

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  27. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    The guiding principle should be SMART interventions, not NO interventions.

    I completely agree. I said so a while back in a much-attacked comment suggesting that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of Iraq.

    But there is no smart intervention, here. The war is essentially between Sunni and Shia. We will not solve that issue. Further, if we back the Sunni – which is effectively what you’re suggesting — we interject ourselves willfully into that pre-existing conflict. We solidify Iranian (and Iraqi) hostility to us. And quite likely without making ourselves any friends on the Sunni side, since we’d be choosing Sunni Faction A over Sunni Faction B.

    Let’s say the Sunnis win. Can you guarantee the safety of the Christian and Druze and Shia population? Let’s posit that we have a degree of control over our Sunni Faction A, what is to stop Sunni Faction B from launching attacks on vulnerable populations? They don’t need our weapons to do that.

    So in reality what we’re looking at here is not a single, discrete intervention, but a series of interventions. Intervene once to ensure rebel victory. Intervene again in factional fighting. Intervene a third time when Sunni Faction B decides it’s juden raus time for Shia and Christians in its territory.

    Then there’s the blowback from Hezbollah. Hezbollah has pointedly avoided attacks in Europe and the US. If we have US jets bombing Hezbollah in Syria, or US artillery in the hands of rebels doing same, or our fingerprints on some godawful religious atrocity committed by rebels against Shia, how long do you think it will be before Hezbollah planners start looking at US targets?

    The Kosovo example fails in my opinion because of the European location, the small populations involved, the absence of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and the fact that we could be seen rightly as honest brokers. In the Middle East we are not honest brokers, sadly, we are Likudniks.

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  28. TastyBits says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I forgot about the Russians supplying gas to Europe. Basically, they have the Europeans “by the short hairs.” If I am not mistaken, the Europeans were trying to run a pipeline through Turkey to get around the Russians, but I do not know how that turned out. Wasn’t gas why the French are concerned about Mali? You gotta love the French.

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  29. stonetools says:

    @TastyBits:

    Syria has nothing the Europeans want,

    Syria actually does have oil and natural gas. Also , pipelines from oil rich countries go through Syria.

    Syria’s proven oil reserves, amounting to 2.5 billion barrels, are greater than those of all neighboring countries except Iraq: according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s estimation of its oil reserves. This makes Syria one of the largest producers and exporters of crude oil in the Middle East.

    The country also has large reserves of natural gas, hitherto used for domestic consumption, especially for conversion to gas-fired power plants. But there is a problem, the U.S agency reported that since 1964 the license for the exploration and exploitation of mineral deposits has been reserved for Syrian government agencies. Until 201O an annual income of more than $ 4 billion was procured from the export of oil, particularly to Europe. But things are changing with the war.

    The ‘”Free Syrian Army” has taken control of important oil fields in Deir Ezzor. Other fields, in the Rumeilan, are controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, who are also hostile to the “rebels” with whom they have repeatedly clashed.

    The U.S. / NATO strategy focuses on helping rebels to seize the oil fields with a twofold purpose: to deprive the Syrian state of revenue from exports, already strongly decreased as a result of the EU embargo, and to ensure that the largest deposits pass in the future, through the “rebels” under the control of the big Western oil companies.

    Location counts for a lot, and Syria is smack dab in the middle of trade routes that go back to biblical times. Finally, Syria borders on Turkey, a NATO ally, and on Israel, a US protectorate (No one calls them that, but we are being realistic here). What affects the security of Israel and Turkey affects European and US interests.
    Iran is also betting big on Assad. Indeed, they’re all in. Knocking out Assad helps us with in our struggle with our biggest foe in the ME(“The friend of my enemy is my enemy. The enemy of my enemy (the rebels ) is my friend”).

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  30. stonetools says:

    @TastyBits:

    I forgot about the Russians supplying gas to Europe. Basically, they have the Europeans “by the short hairs.

    Yet another reason Europeans want a stable Turkey and secure Middle Eastern oil supplies.
    It’s a big checkerboard out there with lots of pieces. The Great Game still goes on.

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  31. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But there is no smart intervention, here. The war is essentially between Sunni and Shia. We will not solve that issue. Further, if we back the Sunni – which is effectively what you’re suggesting — we interject ourselves willfully into that pre-existing conflict. We solidify Iranian (and Iraqi) hostility to us. And quite likely without making ourselves any friends on the Sunni side, since we’d be choosing Sunni Faction A over Sunni Faction B.

    Michael,if it was simple, it wouldn’t be the Middle East . You’re right-there aren’t any “good guys” that we can unreservedly back, a la the Hollywood movies. And no matter what we do- including nothing- there will be blowback. That’s just how it is. So let’s stop looking for ideal, paint-by-numbers solutions and let’s stop pretending that we can be innocent bystanders that no one will blame . That fleet has sailed.
    As I’ve said, we should be quietly seeking out moderates to organize, arm and support. We need to CREATE a good option, not wait and see if one emerges. This is the Middle East-that won’t happen. This is not a surefire option-its possible that there are no qualified moderates out there. But we won’t know till we try. We did try in Libya, and it worked.
    Right now it looks like Asssad, with Russian, Iran, and Hezbollah going all in on his side, is going to win. I can guarantee that this will not be a good thing for US and Western interests in the region.
    Our move.

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  32. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    The United States is without parallel in the use of sledgehammers. No one pulverizes, crushes, overpowers and obliterates quite like we do. Witness everything from Okinawa to Desert Storm.

    We suck with the scalpel events. We suck at subtle. Witness everything from Mossaddegh to Iran/Contra to the occupation stage of Iraq.

    I backed the Iraq debacle in the mistaken belief that we were bringing a sledgehammer to the occupation. That we were going to tear down the existing institutions and build new ones in their place as we did in Japan and forcibly create a new reality. Instead we brought our scalpel.

    We are not Inigo Montoya, able to fight ambidextrously, we are Godzilla, able to crush things really flat.

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  33. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    Yet moderate regimes emerged in Libya, Tunisia, and Mali-with Western support. Reality tells us that moderates don’t always lose-quite the contrary. It depends on the quality and level of Western support, as well as the quality of the moderate leadership.

    These countries are still sorting out who is going to rule. Western support will be for the group most able/willing to protect European interests. The Europeans are interested in oil, gas, and the contracts to build & support the infrastructure. The Europeans shutout Russia because it is in their financial interest.

    Moderate in the Western sense is to allow opposition groups to exist. In most parts of the world, moderate means not slaughtering opposition groups. Many of the minority groups are protected, and in exchange, they tend to be supportive of their regime.

    My understanding of history is that the most brutal win. In some cases, the most brutal become more moderate, but this is dependent upon a subdued population.

    Just means Hezbollah is a tough nut to crack. They’ve got lots of enemies in Lebanon-Christian, Sunni, Druze- and of course the Israelis. They’re not invincible.

    Who is going to crack this tough nut. They have a lot of enemies, but those who are alive stay out of their way.

    When the US was still in Iraq, there was an opportunity to decrease Hezbollah’s influence, but nobody wanted to intervene. The Europeans do not have the military to go against Hezbollah. Israel has the military, but they would cause more trouble. The last time the US got involved in Lebanon, it did not end well.

    The best scenario would be a French operation, but they would need NATO (US) support. It would be bloody, and I do not see US support for what it would take. In the end, the US would reestablish the French in Lebanon, but outside of Beirut, I am doubt there is much interest by the French.

    Assad has already killed more than his father. I don’t think he lacks in ruthlessness. The opposition has resisted longer and harder than many expected. There’s no doubt it’s a death struggle.

    The killings have been dragged out over two years. His father killed about 20,000 in two weeks. That would have solved the problem at the start, but it would have upset the West. At the time, Assad only had support from Iran and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, and the Russians were running interference. The Mubarak and Gaddafi models were a failure, but mass casualties may gotten the West involved. The numbers today would need to be double or triple his father’s number.

    Assad has lasted longer than anybody expected, and he was scheduled to be gone a long time ago.

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  34. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “We are not Inigo Montoya, able to fight ambidextrously”

    On the other hand, we were able to say to Saddam Hussein, “You [almost] killed my father — prepare to die!”

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  35. Andre Kenji says:

    @stonetools:

    The exact same statements were made about the Libyan revolt. There too, it was a mix of moderates and Islamists. We helped the moderates and they prevailed.

    1-) In Libya there was several problems. Black Africans were massacred by the rebels and the tuaregs that worked for Kadaffi would begin a civil war in Mali.

    2-) Syria is not Libya. Libya was basically a single eyalet of the Ottoman Empire, Tripolitania. Besides that, Libya is overwhelmingly Sunni, and in the Maghreb Islamists hold less power than in the Middle East in general.

    3-) In Libya, the rebels held the Eastern portion of the country and they had a united command. And it was pretty easy to bomb them.

    4-) On the other hand, there is no easy options on the table, specially with countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia supplying the rebels.

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  36. Andre Kenji says:

    @TastyBits:

    If I am not mistaken, the Europeans were trying to run a pipeline through Turkey to get around the Russians, but I do not know how that turned out. Wasn’t gas why the French are concerned about Mali? You gotta love the French.

    That´s the pipeline:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabucco_pipeline

    Sarkozy had promised a nuclear reactor to Morocco. And that´s why Kadaffi was so popular among European Leaders, until the uprising. Regarding Mali, well, Mali is a former French colony, and it´s not difficult to spot Malians in prominent positions in France(There were several immigrants in the French cabinet). Besides that, the Mali government was pleading for help, and there was the risk of the conflict spreading in the region.

    And that´s why the French are more efficient at imperialism: they KNOW the countries that they are invading. The French newspapers are an excellent source of news about Africa and the Middle East, by the way.

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  37. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We suck with the scalpel events. We suck at subtle. We suck with the scalpel events. We suck at subtle.

    Yet we succeeded in Gulf War 1, Bosnia, Kosovo, Tunisia, Libya.

    IOW, we are not destined to f&*k up-so long as we are smart. Being smart means just that-being careful, having limited objectives, knowing when to hold ‘em,knowing when to fold ‘em. Who the team is matters. I trust the Obama Administration to know when and how to push in the knife and when to bring out the hammer. My guess is they are already working behind the scenes to feel out which if any rebel groups they could support-and considering other scenarios as well. I also think the Europeans have something in mind. They understand what would happen if Iran could choke off oil at the Strait of Hormuz and also at the pipelines running through Syria.Unlike American non-interventionists, they can read a map.

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  38. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    It’s a big checkerboard out there with lots of pieces. The Great Game still goes on.

    Realpolitik is how the game is played, and it is about time the “West” relearn the old lessons. The Syrian square is now occupied by a Russian piece, but this is better than an Iranian piece.

    A world with two or three big players is better than only one. At one time, everybody understood that there is a difference between what you say and what you do. Your side is the “moderates” no matter how much of a bastard they are.

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  39. stonetools says:

    @TastyBits:

    The Syrian square is now occupied by a Russian piece, but this is better than an Iranian piece.

    I would say that is an Iranian piece really, but it doesn’t matter because Iran and Russia are working together. Understand that Iran and Russia together can squeeze Europe on oil and gas-especially if they control the pipelines going through Syria. People who think the West has no interest in Syria should take another look at the map of the Middle East. Seriously. Its like saying that Panama is unimportant because it doesn’t have any stuff America needs.

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  40. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    Europe needs to decide what is in Europe’s interest. Then, Europe needs to determine a plan of action, and part of that plan includes the resources to achieve their goals.

    In Libya, they would have gotten their a$$es handed to them without US support. If you cannot win against the Libyan army, how are you going to beat the Syrian army.

    If the Europeans are concerned about Russia, they need to put on their big-boy pants and do something about it. Blaming the US is not doing something about it.

    Iran is a regional player, and their influence is limited to regional matters. Russia is a global player, and their influence is major. Russia, China, and the US have larger interests than the ME, and these interests are multi-layered.

    Bringing Democracy to the Middle East is what started a lot of this nonsense.

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